By Debby Carter, Sierra Historic Sites Association
The place we know as Fish Camp has a long history. In Native American times it was a seasonal campsite for fishing and gathering acorns. After the establishment of European Americans in the area, it saw several different purposes over the years.
The name “Fish Camp” waffled back and forth with “Summerdale” for quite a while. The original post office there was called Summerdale, but that was moved to Sugar Pine in 1908. In fact, Fish Camp’s history is tied to the logging industry in several different ways. Some smaller logging operations were actually established in that area in the 1800s, and the largest company in the area, Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company, had logging train lines running through the area.
In 1881, Annie Philp took up a timber claim in the area and called it Fish Camp because of the number of fish caught there. Her husband, Albert, built a two-story hotel in 1883 upon the present sight of the last Silvertip Lodge. Across the street was a large building with a post office at one end. This building, plus two barns, made up the town of Summerdale.
The Fish Camp area was also important for its water supply, which was diverted for irrigation purposes in the San Joaquin Valley. The Big Creek Diversion Ditch, which was begun in 1872, diverted water from Big Creek to Lewis Creek.
W. R. Thurman and J. W. Drysdale moved the equipment from the Soquel mill to Fish Camp in 1886. Teams of oxen were used to haul logs to the mill and then the lumber was hauled to the San Joaquin valley by lumber wagons.
In 1886, a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was laid from Berenda to Raymond, beginning the operation of the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company. This road, pioneered by Henry Washburn, lead from Raymond to Yosemite, and Summerdale (Fish Camp) was on this route into the park. A picture taken in 1898 of Fish Camp showing the name Summerdale also states that it was the principal stopping place on the route to Wawona. An article with this photo states that the town burned down after this date. When it was rebuilt, it was called Fish Camp. However, the post office was still called Summerdale.
In our library, we have several photos of the Fish Camp/Summerdale of the late 1800s. They depict a store, a saloon, two hotels, a post office, and various unidentified buildings. We know that there were several lumber mills in the area, as well.
Unfortunately, we do not have any maps that would give us a better understanding of its layout. Anyone out there have a map circa 1900, even a hand drawn one? Also, we would like to know the exact location of “Happy Camp,” the local “entertainment” center for the early loggers. Some sources place it near the current site of Tenaya Lodge, but others claim that it was on the west side of Highway 41 along a forest service road.
Follow-Up to History Mystery #93 from SNO’s Facebook page
I remember visiting my grandpa’s cousins prob 50 yrs ago (or so) in a house similar. They lived nearly on Whiskey Creek and my sis and I would sit on the bank and watch the trout swim. Their creek area was tree-covered and I don’t remember any rock outcropping or boulders. I’ve got a call in to my mom she might remember more.
Julie Condon – that’s great maybe you can solve the mystery!